How a CIO Builds a Culture of Innovation with Jag Randhawa


In this episode, I’m joined by CIO and author Jag Randhawa. Jag currently serves as the Vice President of Information Technology and E-Commerce at CAMICO Mutual Insurance. Jag is also the author of the book “The Bright Idea Box”.

Innovation is not about one idea, it’s about a something bigger. In this episode, we discuss Jag’s perspective on how IT and the CIO play a role in driving innovation and what drove him to write the book. We also discuss what lead to the conversation where his CEO asked him about serving as CEO.


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Podcast Episode

Episode Transcript

Tim Crawford:               Hello and welcome to the CIO in the know podcast where I take a provocative but pragmatic look at the intersection of business and technology. I’m your host, Tim Crawford, a CIO, analyst and strategic advisor at AVOA.

Tim Crawford:               In this episode, I am joined by CIO and author Jag Randhawa. Jag currently serves as the Vice President of Information, Technology and Ecommerce at Camico Mutual Insurance. Jag is also the author of the book, The Bright Idea Box. Innovation is not about one idea, it’s about something bigger. In this episode we discuss Jag’s perspective on how IT and the CIO play a role in driving innovation and what drove him to write the book.

Tim Crawford:               We also discuss what led to the conversation where his CEO asked him about serving as CEO. Welcome to another episode of the CIO In The Know. I’m your host, Tim Crawford, and today my guest is Jag Randhawa, who is the VP of Information, Technology and Ecommerce at Camico Mutual Insurance. Jag is also the author of the book, The Bright Idea Box.

Tim Crawford:               Jag, welcome to the program.

Jag Randhawa:              Thank you, Tim. Thanks for having me.

Tim Crawford:               You know, it’s always great to have a conversation with you. I’m always learning something new and I welcome every chance I get to spend time with you. Let’s just kind of dive right into the conversation and I want to tie in some of the thoughts from your book too. You know, one of the conversations that typically comes up is how do we intersect this idea of innovation and the role of the CIO?

Jag Randhawa:              That’s $1 million question Tim. As we all know how technology has changed our life and it’s changing our businesses day in day out. So I would say like the CIO, this is their home turf. Technology is their strength and technology is empowering and enabling businesses to do new things that they were not able to do before and it’s enabling innovation on many, many fronts. In the past we always focused on the internal operational efficiencies, but look at the customer facing opportunities technology has created. So I think like the CIO are right now at a great turning point where they can leverage their knowledge of technology to help the businesses grow.

Tim Crawford:               That seems like a pretty straight forward statement though. I mean is this, is it really that easy for the CIO to adopt innovation and instill it within their organization?

Jag Randhawa:              You’d be surprised. Yes, I would say, uh, but again I wouldn’t, I would say I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of the things in the organization, but some may not be afforded those kind of opportunities. But in a, in essence, any leadership positions you have to earn your ability to do things within the organization. For example, let’s say, you know, talking about innovation, you have to prove that you are capable of introducing new innovations. You have to actually bring some new innovations to the table for somebody to take you seriously.

Tim Crawford:               When you talk about innovation, you know, innovation can come in many different forms. It can come in terms of organization as you talk about quite extensively in the book, but it also can come in terms of technology. What’s your take on kind of the role of innovation with organizations and technology?

Jag Randhawa:              Feel like technology is at the center of everything. Even when you look at it like in very simple things like customer service. In the past we never associated technology with the customer service, but today customers want to interact with you in any possible way they can. They want to talk to you on the chat. They want to be able to be served through Twitter, social media and the number of ways they want to interact with you. And technology helps you do that. And beyond that, like today, but the digital world, we can connect the dots of how are we servicing our customers. We can have insights whenever we are engaging with customers and you can only do that through this digitalization that is happening today. And having technology to support that.

Tim Crawford:               So looking beyond just the CIO role and technology because you know the conversations you and I have had in the past, it’s, it’s not just about the CIO and the IT organization and it’s not even just about the IT organization interacting with the rest of the employees, but it is about, as you say, customers and the rest of the c-suite. Let’s shift gears a little bit and maybe kind of talk about how the CIO relates to the rest of the c-suite. What’s your take on where that exists today and where it needs to go? How is it working and, and I know this is a space that that you spend an exorbitant amount of time with and had great success with. So I really want to tap into that as well.

Jag Randhawa:              Let’s step back a little bit. Let’s talk about any leader’s role. Whenever you’re hired for a specific role, you have two functions. One to know the domain that you’re in. For example, if you’re in a CIO it’s expected out of you that that you know technology. The second piece that you have to bring into the table is do you have to understand the business and say how does technology adds value to the business? So not only that you have to understand technology, but you also have to understand the business and you have to be able to, as they say, like you know speak their language. And if you want to have respect from your peers, definitely you need to know how to speak in the business language.

Tim Crawford:               But that goes both ways too, doesn’t it? Meaning there are some that would argue that the rest of the c-suite needs to learn more about technology and the CIO needs to learn more about business. Where’s, where is that happy medium?

Jag Randhawa:              Absolutely. I mean, you know, it’s a part of your job as a leader, as a persuader as a, somebody who’s charting new territory is your job is to be at the forefront unless you want somebody else to be at the forefront. I hear this comment from many, many people that you know, hey, how about CFO or a CMO learning little bit of technology? What do you want to CFO or a CMO to be the leader? You want to be the leader? So in a way it’s kind of like that balance of who’s got the drive to lead you or you want somebody else to lead? So if you want to lead, you need to take on the reins and run with it.

Tim Crawford:               Yeah. I think that’s, that’s a pretty provocative statement cause it does come back to, it almost feels like when folks talk about, well the CEO or the CMO, the COO need to learn more about technology. It almost feels like a defensive statement. Like the CIO is getting defensive. I don’t know your take on that.

Jag Randhawa:              No, I, I completely agree. I mean, you know that that is the innovate. You know, you’re kind of hiding behind that, you know, hey, others don’t understand it, but that’s part of your job. You know, I love that Einstein’s quote that you know, if you cannot explain it to your grandma, you don’t really know it. So the same applies here that, you know, you have to simplify the technology. You have to speak in the terms that others can understand and not try to convince the technical terminologies or all the nuances that go underneath it. You have to bring it up another higher, bigger picture level and what the technology does, how it does enable the business and take some baby steps to show some results. You know, perhaps for those naysayers, uh, the only way to get them on board is to actually show some results.

Tim Crawford:               So execution does matter.

Jag Randhawa:              Absolutely.

Tim Crawford:               And part of what you’re saying too is that the conversation has to be in business terms too. It can’t be in technology terms.

Jag Randhawa:              Right. Right. I mean, I’m, I’m a techie at core, you know, with the two degrees in electronics engineering and another computer science, and now it added in accounting to that. So I can talk in a three letter acronyms like a lot, but that doesn’t work well. So I recommend as much as possible, very simple, very plain terminology and try to do, you know, again, like a part of being a leader, you have to have some persuasion skills. You have to look at the landscape, who needs what type of convincing, who needs what type of data.

Tim Crawford:               Yeah. Data is a key piece today for sure. You know, when I think about your role at Camico and, and Jag, you and I’ve known each other for years, you know, it’s evolved over time too, and it’s not your typical CIO function. How are you looking beyond the role of the CIO and is this something that every CIO should be considering or thinking about?

Jag Randhawa:              I would say to answer your latter question, yes. Everybody should be, I mean those who aspire to grow in their career, they, yes, they should be looking at it and they can look at a possible opportunity to expand their role and the career as well as personal development. Going back to kind of like, you know, my role has evolved. Yes, I would say I’ve been very blessed, very fortunate that my organization afforded me a lot of opportunities. I have worked in marketing. I had just after finishing my CPA license, I started working with the finance more. So I would say I have, I’m lucky that I’ve been afforded these opportunities, but also the other end, I have also worked hard to acquire those skills. And only after you demonstrate your skills, somebody gives you opportunity. It’s the same thing like when you give opportunities to your direct reports, you see something, right?

Jag Randhawa:              You see that, you know, they are capable of taking on this role and same thing applies to your role. You have to demonstrate to others that you know, hey, you have the knowledge, you can contribute. And you start by initially contributing few thoughts or few ideas or even collaborating with somebody to like in a, hey, we can do this thing and how about if we tried this thing, try to help others out. Like try to help out your CMO, with some technology components that you can add. Try to help out the CFO but like an okay, how can we best understand the budget and how can we manage our cashflow?

Tim Crawford:               And you, you have exposure to not just the CFO and CMO, but you also have quite a bit of exposure to the CEO and your board of directors. What have you learned that’s really kind of helped you in your role as CIO? What has helped you from having that exposure and did you use the same kind of methods of building relationships to get that exposure?

Jag Randhawa:              That’s a tough question. Have not thought about it much. In a way, I would say a lot of my career or my progress has been organic. It’s not something that I intentionally developed. But now looking back then if somebody is looking to grow their, career then yes, they should be doing that. I guess you can take a lot of proactive steps and like you said, the relationship that’s, that’s the key building those relationship.

Jag Randhawa:              But beyond relationship, business is all about execution. Business is all about delivering results. Yeah. And just the results speak for themselves, but you had to create results and also you have to demonstrate those results. You have to sell those results as well.

Tim Crawford:               But you also have to come up with new ideas. You can’t just kind of sit on your laurels and wait for the next thing to come. You have to be that, that source of innovation.

Jag Randhawa:              Right. Only then people look to you for ideas. If you come up with like a, hey, I see, I see this organization doing these things and they have seen results doing that.

Tim Crawford:               So I want to shift gears again and kind of talk more about innovation and those ideas. And speaking of your book, The Bright Idea Box, and it really talks about how to actually engage innovation within your organization. When I want to talk about what prompted you to write the book, what prompted you to kind of get this out there and what are some things that you’ve learned since writing the book?

Jag Randhawa:              I think, uh, again, I think I’ve shared this story with you in the past that, you know, the book came out of a crisis. After 2008 you know, when I was looking for ways how to do more with less, I started reading a lot. I started looking to other people, how they do things, how good leaders execute or manage the organization, manage the morale within the organization. Because let’s admit it, like, you know, as a leader you’re only as good as the people working for you.

Jag Randhawa:              So how to develop that strength at every level in the organization. So it was my own struggle trying to look for how to grow the organization, how to sustain the current level of engagement with within the organization that I came across this idea of a very actually provocative thought. Up until I started reading more about innovation and you know, typical like just like everybody else, you think of innovation of some grand ideas next IPAD or next iPhone.

Jag Randhawa:              That’s what everybody gravitates towards. But I learned the hard way that, you know, innovation is not about developing the next biggest gadget. It’s not about coming up with these grandiose ideas. It turns out the innovation is the compounding effect of lots and lots of ideas. And the people often undermine the power of small ideas that come together to create this great product.

Jag Randhawa:              I mean, you know, take iPhone for an example. Apple was not the first company to develop by iPhone or I should say the first company to develop a touch screen phone. There were many other devices or phones available at that time that were touch screen, had all the browser and email, you name it. But look at Apple when they introduced iPhone, I mean every level, every aspect of that device had so many ideas, so many ideas executed very well.

Tim Crawford:               One of the things you talk about in the book is you relate to Yoda to Google and those are two companies that I think most people wouldn’t think go in the same sentence.

Tim Crawford:               Can you talk a little more about kind of how those two come together from your perspective?

Jag Randhawa:              Yes, and actually, you know, there’s a lot of similarity between Turner between Pixar, between Google and it’s just unbelievable. And Turner, was perhaps one of those early company that a harness this concept of employee ideas. They were a struggling company back right after World War II. They just suddenly, you know, there were about at the brink of bankruptcy when somebody suggested this idea of like, no, let’s make this a cooperative organization where we all work together toward the success of the organization. I mean all employees, the union at that time and the management all came together that, you know, hey, our livelihood depends on it. And that’s where this idea of we are all in it together, we all can make this company better started surfacing.

Jag Randhawa:              And I believe when they hired Deming, Deming, that’s when they took it to the next level and it focused on quality that hey everybody get, comes up with ideas or suggests ideas on the line level that improves the quality of the car. And then they took it from there to many, many other domains. But that’s where it started. Like, you know, start with small ideas. Every idea is idea that improve the quality of the car.

Tim Crawford:               So do you think that, you know, kind of bringing this back to corporate America today and even enterprises that exist in other parts of the world, is the CIO the best person to, to lead that source of innovation and and lead that as you call it, the innovation charter?

Jag Randhawa:              I would say anybody who’s a leader is in a good position to lead that charge.

Tim Crawford:               But it seems like the CIO has the potential, especially today with technology being so strong within any given enterprise, the CIO has a pretty strong potential of coming up with new ideas.

Jag Randhawa:              I agree. And you know, I mean I would say it’s the opportunity is handed to CIOs. Whether they avail it or not, that means that’s all up to them. I mean again, like we were talking about, it’s all up to you, your career aspirations as well as your personal development aspirations, but the golden opportunity’s right in your hands.

Tim Crawford:               So you wrote the book, gosh, it was, so I guess that prompted you about 10 years ago to write the book. The book was written a little more recent than that. But since then, how is this related to your current role? How has this helped you in your current role?

Jag Randhawa:              It started a while back, I mean before the book, the whole innovation program and ability to deliver results, ability to bring the organization together, ability to execute ideas, new ideas in the organization. All that work that went into behind the scenes before the book. I mean before even it was a formal innovation program, it produced some results. Those results were noticed. I guess that’s when the CEO approached me and say, you know, hey, have you ever thought of being the CEO of the company? I mean, that was something I never thought of, never dreamed of. For me, I’m a technology guy. I work for an insurance company. Well, how could I, somebody with my background lead a CEO Charter for an insurance company?

Tim Crawford:               Let me just make sure that I underscore what I think I just heard, which is based on your working and actually executing on these ideas and the relationship you had with the CEO and c-suite, the CEO then approached you about thinking about being the CEO of the company?

Jag Randhawa:              Yes, yes. In short, yes.

Tim Crawford:               That’s a very provocative place to be. I mean, I would think that most CIO’s would love to be in that kind of position.

Jag Randhawa:              I would say that I’m lucky. I’m very fortunate. As you all know, the, you know, CEO role is a board appointed position and that might change when the time comes, but just being in a position that everything I do, I think about all the projects I take on. I have now this hat on me that okay, whatever I do is mine and it’s success directly contributes to my future success. So that then propels me to do even more.

Jag Randhawa:              I want to make sure that you know everything we do is successful. I give them my best and I think it’s creating this compounding effect. I would say.

Tim Crawford:               It’s an amazing story, Jag, and unfortunately we haven’t had time to get into the depth of it in this podcast, but I’ve had the privilege of spending a lot more time with you and, and I’m always amazed at what you’ve accomplished. Kind of putting a wrap on the discussion, if you look kind of forward, what excites you most about the role of the CIO today moving forward, but then also where does technology kind of fit into it?

Jag Randhawa:              I think CIOs are at a crossroad today. They have a lot of opportunities. Technology is everywhere. It has pulled the CIO’s role at the center of the organization. You can say that has been true for a long time, but, given the pace of change given the new technologies coming on board, given the new disciplines that are emerging at the crossroads of traditional functions and with the combination of technology CIOs have so many opportunities. Rather than venturing in new roles, I would say CIO’s have a lot of opportunities to contribute to different domains of the organization in different units of the organization.

Jag Randhawa:              And you name it, pick one. You’re going to help the organization with the operations. You can help the organization with the customer service. You can help your organization with the product development. You can help the organization with the execution, the delivery, you name it. I mean this, this and there’s no limit to it today. And in a way it creates opportunities for you to learn and expand your knowledge, get out of your comfort zone, do new things.

Tim Crawford:               But what you’re also talking about, and maybe I’m kind of bringing in some of our past discussions into this. It really requires the individual to have that fire in their belly to go after that. It’s not something that’s just going to show up at your doorstep and..

Jag Randhawa:              No, no. And you know, either either you do it or somebody will do it for you. Right? Then I go out to various events and like people are always talking about conflicts between various roles. We won’t get into that, but I personally feel like in a case, there is a void in the organization that needs to be filled and that is a void between the traditional organizational functions and the technology. For other business leaders, technology is scary, but for you, that’s your home turf. That’s what brings you excitement. It’s that’s what brings you joy. Or at least that’s what I think, a lot of them a lot of the CIOs I talk to, that’s how they feel. So I think, you know, you have a great opportunities to bring new technologies, build a relationships with these business leaders, and also learn from them.

Tim Crawford:               Jag, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I could go on and on and on. We’ve been talking with Jag Randhawa, who is the VP of Information Technology and Ecommerce at Camico Mutual Insurance and the author of the book, The Bright Idea Box. Jag, thank you so much today for joining the program.

Jag Randhawa:              My pleasure, and thank you for having me.

Tim Crawford:               It’s always a great opportunity to spend time with you and I look forward to our next conversation.

Jag Randhawa:              Likewise, thank you.

Tim Crawford:               All right. Thank you. For more information on the CIO In The Know Podcast series, visit us online at or you can find us on Sound Cloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Don’t forget to subscribe and thank you for listening.

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